Research suggests that anywhere from 20–80% of runners end up injured each year. This number is lower for walkers as a result of the reduced impact forces, but still, pavement pounders of every ilk deal with a host of nagging pains — from knee pain to plantar fasciitis.
These injuries are often related to training errors, biomechanical or gait issues, strength and flexibility imbalances and improper or worn-out footwear. The good news is none of these problems are without solutions. In fact, if they are addressed early, many of the most common injuries can be prevented.
RISK FACTORS FOR INJURY
Many studies try to pinpoint specific risk factors in hopes of helping runners and walkers avoid injuries in the first place. For instance, one study looked at 930 new runners and found the oldest participants (ages 45–65) were more likely to sustain an injury. Those who had a BMI greater than 30 also had a higher injury rate, as did those who had a past, non-running-related injury. What’s more, they even found personality may impact injury rate: Runners with a Type B personality (as opposed to Type A), defined as “relaxed, laid-back,” experienced more running injuries.
If you fall into any of these categories, it can be useful to know you may need to be more vigilant when it comes to injury prevention. Understanding the signs and symptoms of common running and walking ailments, as well as how to respond, will also help you skirt major issues that can leave you sidelined. In the vast majority of cases, arming yourself with basic injury information and listening to your body keeps you healthy and running or walking all season (or year) long.
CAUSES AND SYMPTOMS ASSOCIATED WITH COMMON INJURIES
It’s important to intuit the difference between soreness and pain associated with an injury. If you’re entering a new training program after a period of inactivity, you’re likely to experience a few aches as your body adjusts. If, however, you experience sharp or intense pain anywhere, you should respond immediately.
If it’s just run-of-the-mill soreness, proceed with your training as planned. Delayed onset muscle soreness can rear its ugly head a couple days after an activity, so it may take a week or so before you’re feeling fresh again. Fortunately, soreness doesn’t signal anything catastrophic and will resolve on its own.
For more serious injuries, your first move should be to pull back the reins on your training or opt to cross-train so you can assess the situation. Catching an injury in the early stages and responding appropriately can mean the difference between a couple days off and a couple months off.
INJURY PREVENTION AND TREATMENT
If you identify what you think might be a developing injury early on, here are a few things to try:
1. DECREASE MILEAGE
Since overtraining is one of the leading causes of running and walking injuries, adjusting your training is the first step. Depending on the injury, this may mean reducing the time on your feet each week or stopping altogether. If the issue resolves itself in a couple of days, start to slowly ramp up your mileage again.
If your knee hurts, for instance, substitute biking or swimming. Choosing a low-impact aerobic activity allows you to keep building cardiovascular fitness without all the pounding on your bones, joints and muscles.
3. APPLY ICE OR HEAT
Depending on the pain, you’ll want to ice or heat the area. Icing helps reduce inflammation and heat is better for chronic pain. Draw yourself an ice bath, grab a bag of frozen peas or freeze paper cups full of water and apply it to the source of the pain for 10 minutes 2–3 times per day.
4. TRY SELF-MASSAGE
Foam rollers and massage sticks are a great way to work out many common soft-tissue problems before they develop into full-blown injuries. When caught early, injuries such as IT band syndrome can often be addressed simply by foam rolling the muscles around it a few minutes each day.
SEEKING ADDITIONAL HELP
If prevention and initial treatment don’t work or you are experiencing intense or persistent pain, you should schedule an appointment with a specialist. The question is: Who should you see?
Here is a rundown of some of the best specialists to turn to for running and walking injuries:
Sports medicine physician
If you’re stumped on where to turn for an injury, sports medicine doctors are a good place to start. Not only can they diagnose a wide range of running or walking issues but they also work closely with physical therapists and athletic trainers who can help devise a rehab plan and get you on the road to recovery.
They provide a rehab plan for existing injuries and can also assist in identifying the root of your issues. Through a series of tests, including running or walking on a treadmill and strength and balance diagnostics, physical therapists are often able to figure out what caused the problem in the first place. In addition to rehabilitation, they often provide exercises to help you prevent similar issues from occurring down the road.
For injuries that affect the knee on down to the foot, a podiatrist may be your best bet. Specializing in foot issues, they treat everything from plantar fasciitis to Achilles tendinitis. They can also assist with creating custom orthotics, which can help runners and walkers avoid injuries up the entire kinetic chain.
Many active people swear by their chiropractors to keep their bodies in optimal alignment. Not only can a chiropractor address a whole host of bone and soft-tissue injuries, but they also serve as a good option for regular maintenance work. In addition to adjustments, they can employ soft-tissue therapies like Active Release Technique and Graston.
Sports massage therapist
These soft-tissue specialists are trained to work out knots and adhesions that are causing pain and limiting adequate muscle function. Many of them are also certified in Active Release Technique and Graston for more serious issues.
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